At the beginning of the summer I felt very conflicted by the location of many of the towns we planned on working with because of the 30-35 mile distance from the Salem gas plant. I thought to myself: how will we engage communities to learn more about a project far away? Though the “Not in my backyard” argument is limited because the Earth is an integrated system and changing the atmosphere in one place impacts the atmosphere in any other place, it is a great way to first engage people. Even with technology allowing us to communicate worldwide, the local area takes precedence over any other area of the world. It is harder to factor in all areas of the world when planning one particular project. We humans usually don’t think on such a large scale. Individuals, families, businesses and schools are all deeply impacted by a sense of place.
After traveling through and working with those a little ways away from the plant in Amesbury, Ipswich, Newburyport, and Gloucester, my perspective has changed. I agree with my earlier self that the gas plant is Salem is not first priority in these places, I have found contentment in realizing that it doesn’t have to be at the top of their list for my team to make strong connections and to build relationships. Coming into a community is so much more than simply giving facts about a project or making an emotional argument to fight this piece of the fossil fuel puzzle. Throughout my stay I have learned about striving for peace in Amesbury, how the grid currently operates in Ipswich, why sea level rise is a threat in Newburyport, and how Mayor Carolyn Kirk was able overcome opposition to wind energy and build turbines in the city.
During training “never assuming someone knows what you know” was highly stressed and we spent a significant amount of time learning about climate change and fossil fuels like methane natural gas, as well as learning how to share our knowledge. This has proved to be most useful in the church presentations we hold, so I am glad we did this, but I was also surprised how much people knew already that we were working with. My team and I have had very few climate science arguments among all the conversations we have had with citizens this summer; which is a relief. Feeling as if the country is either completely ignorant of the impact we have on the world or simply apathetic about it is very disheartening and can make doomsday depression about the planet feel very taxing and heavy. I have found a new inspiration by meeting those all over the North Shore and learning about all of the good sustainability measures taking place, which makes the news about the potential change in our planet feel more manageable. We are also able to strengthen ties with these new friends by listening to them about their efforts. In return, they are open to learning about the details related to the proposed plant.
So no matter how far we are from the proposed gas plant in Salem, we are never really far enough away that it doesn’t matter and isn’t relevant. If anything, it has been an advantage to our team to be able to connect with groups from all over to spread awareness about what we are working on while learning from them simultaneously. The world isn’t really smaller than we think it is, but it sure is an interwoven quilt of a planet. Thank you to all of the wise and meaningful folks who we have had the privilege to cross paths with so far on our journey.